Gbagbo under house arrest after capture

Abidjan – Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara ordered ousted rival Laurent Gbagbo under house arrest as the newly installed leader fought today to impose his authority and stamp out insecurity.

As US President Barack Obama phoned Ouattara to congratulate him on finally taking office, the new Ivorian government said that the man who was captured on Monday after he had refused to cede power would remain in detention.

“Pending the opening of a judicial inquiry, Mr Laurent Gbagbo and some of his companions have been placed under house arrest,” Justice Minister Jeannot Ahoussou-Kouadio said in a statement.

The government did not say where Gbagbo was being held, nor who the “companions” were. He was arrested with his wife Simone, son Michel and several former officials of his ousted regime.

The Ouattara government has said it is determined Gbagbo will face justice over the months of fighting that erupted after he refused to admit defeat in Ivory Coast’s presidential election last November.

His decade-long rule was finally ended on Monday when troops loyal to Ouattara stormed a bunker in his Abidjan residence.

Ouattara’s most pressing task is to quell unrest in Gbagbo strongholds, particularly in the main city Abidjan.

Amid the euphoria today among his supporters, residents in some parts of the city reported fresh clashes involving heavy weapons fire around the Plateau district which is home to the presidential palace.

In Cocody, the neighbourhood where Gbagbo was arrested, a resident said “there was sporadic small arms fire in the morning, after which we heard rocket and heavy machine-gun fire for several minutes”.

Tensions were exacerbated further by news that a former interior minister who was arrested along with Gbagbo, Desire Tagro, died yesterday in circumstances that remained unclear, sources said.

A Gbagbo supporter alleged Tagro was shot while in custody at the hotel where the ousted president was taken after his capture but one of the sources, a diplomat, said he might have tried to kill himself.

Fighting in Abidjan has left streets littered with bodies and parts of the city in the grip of looters.

But a semblance of normal life appeared to return to large parts of the city, with traffic back on the streets and some shops reopening.

The White House said in a statement that Obama had called Ouattara “to congratulate him on assuming his duties as the democratically elected president of Cote d’Ivoire.

“President Obama offered support for President Ouattara’s efforts to unite Cote d’Ivoire, restart the economy, restore security and reform the security forces,” it added.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed Ouattara’s promise to set up a truth and reconciliation commission to look into accusations of massacres and other crimes made against both sides in the conflict.

The UN, which has more than 9 000 troops and police in Ivory Coast, will keep up its mission helping to restore law and order and Ban offered help coping with a “critical” humanitarian emergency.

The UN has said that at least 800 people have been confirmed killed in the fighting.

Regional bloc ECOWAS said in a letter to Ouattara that Gbagbo should be treated fairly “despite his violent and stubborn opposition to the choice made by the Ivorian people”.

The presidential crisis has crippled the formerly wealthy nation’s economy, and France and the European Union have said they will give a total of €580 million in emergency aid.

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